PSU’s ‘Fearsome Four’ dooms No. 2 Iowa | Centre County Gazette
UNIVERSITY PARK — To the casual observer, No. 2 Iowa’s plan to upset No. 1 Penn State on Jan. 27 was to control ties, keep games close and rake in late wins.
This strategy paid off as the Hawkeyes won four of their first six fights and led 14-9 by the end of the 165-pound bout.
After that, however, the most fearsome finishing foursome in college wrestling took over.
Penn State (11-0, 4-0 B1G) swept the last four weights in its 23-14 win and helped pull away from Iowa (12-1, 5-1) in front of an insanely sold-out crowd of 15,998 at the Bryce Jordan Center, tied for largest indoor crowd for an NCAA dual meet.
“These guys did a good job. We were behind. After Aaron’s (Brooks) match because he got five points, we had to win one of two. These guys did a great job and won some tough matches when it counted,” said Penn State Coach Cael Sanderson, who was celebrating his 100th Big Ten win. Sanderson is now 6-5 as Penn State coach against Iowa coach Tom Brands.
Penn State won six of ten fights and held a 16-2 lead in the takedown fight.
“Only two takedowns in the whole match,” Sanderson asked when the disparity was pointed out. “Wow.”
Getting just two takedowns seemed like a point of contention for Brands.
“We have to keep ourselves busy. We have to keep ourselves busy. It’s not something you look at the other team that caused it. It’s a mindset to go out there and attack. We need to address that,” Brands said.
“You don’t go into the Duals with an attitude of giving up anything. We have to take our meds on that loss but I’ll tell you what, we took our meds too much during that game out there and in some positions and you can never take your meds while this game is on and this clock is ticking and stuff too much has happened further. I’m telling you this, we have to get better.”
Substituting for a “loony” Gary Steen for Penn State at 125, Marco Vespa gave a jolt to the sold-out crowd. He turned an early one-legged takedown attempt into a near-cradle of three-time NCAA champion Spencer Lee for a short-lived 2-0 lead.
“You have to be ready, and if you’re not ready, there’s likely to be one after you. You know I think he was chasing him a bit and the guy shot that low ankle and the guy is long and that was probably their plan but Spencer released the hold right away and was really I mean there wasn’t one Near miss,” Brands said.
“It shows that this is a knockout sport. I mean, there’s such a thing as a fall, and the guys will come out and try to knock you out with their best stuff. And that’s why you have to be ready when you go out there. He was ready. He was ready.”
Top ranked Lee flipped Vespa and then flipped it four times for 4 points each in an 18-2 technical fall in 2:13.
With 133 points, Roman Bravo-Young hit takedowns in the first and second periods to lead 4-1 into third, where he stayed neutral against No. 17 Brody Teske. Bravo-Young added another takedown and earned a point for a second stall call against Teske. But with less than 30 seconds to go, Bravo-Young needed another takedown for a crucial decision. He got it and more when he countered a Teske single by locking him in a nearby cradle and holding him down at 6:48 while the BJC crowd roared their approval.
“Roman knows what he’s doing. He was a takedown from a major, which would have been great too,” Sanderson said.
Iowa reclaimed the lead with two 4-1 decisions at 141 and 149 as Hawkeye veterans Real Woods and Max Murin proved a little too savvy for Beau Bartlett and Shayne Van Ness.
Ninth-placed Levi Haines walked out with a 157 for the Nittany Lions, which meant his red shirt was burned. The move paid off as he beat No. 15 Cobe Siebrecht 3-2. The difference was a 1:22 double leg takedown by Haines in the third period. Haines’ performance as a 157-pounder in the starting XI caused quite a stir among his teammates.
“It was exciting. It’s like he’s anointed,” said 184-pounder Aaron Brooks. “How young he is, how calm he is. I spoke of his composure. He was laid on his back early and was freezing. He smiles at that. I think it’s great for him to go out here and have that experience because the more he wrestles the better he gets. So it’s been exciting just making sure he’s okay mentally and spiritually.”
Iowa led 11-9 and won another Tossup bout by 165 points. Patrick Kennedy defeated Penn State’s Alex Facundo 2-1 in an overtime tiebreak fight. Kennedy’s 4-second escape in the first tiebreaker period forced Facundo to remain neutral in the second period to attempt a winning takedown, but he was denied.
Penn State ousted the lead in Iowa with a 174-point win ahead of leader Carter Starocci. A point for a 1:12 lead made the difference to the 2:1 decision.
Brooks, trailing 14-12, took the mat for Penn State against Iowa backup Drake Rhodes, who came on for No. 12 Abe Assad. Brooks was just too much for the rookie as he built a 10-2 lead after one with three takedowns and a 4-point tilt. Brooks continued to accumulate points and added six more takedowns that would result in a 22-7 technical fall in 5:42 to give Penn State a 17-14 lead with two bouts remaining.
This led to a rematch of the 2022 NCAA Finals between fourth-place Nittany Lion Max Dean, the champion, and No. 7 Jacob Warner. Dean won again by escaping in the second period and Warner rode the entire third period for 1:14 in riding time to earn another point in a 2–0 win.
Penn State led 20-14, and second-place Greg Kerkvliet secured the win with a 4-1 decision over third-place Tony Cassioppi. Kerkvliet converted to a single in the first, rode Cassioppi the entire second period, and added an escape and ride time. Kerkvliet bounced back from a loss to Michigan’s Mason Parris last Friday that dropped him from first to second in the rankings.
“Everyone likes to win, but I probably had to learn again that I hate losing,” said Kerkvliet. “So if I have to do something mentally, if it changed my mentality a bit, those are the things I have to do. I need to make small changes.”
Ultimately, Sanderson said his Nittany Lions had things to do that Iowa revealed, something he says the Hawkeyes are good at.
“Wrestling is a tough sport, and in the middle of an arena like this it’s one-on-one. There aren’t many experiences you would ever have in life that could test you like that,” Sanderson said. “So, I think our guys did a good job.”